With the holidays are approaching fast, we wanted to share our experience working in the domain to offer up some smarthome related gift-suggestions. Although we only launched our formal Smart Homes & Buildings initiative last week, about 50% of our client work in 2015 has been in developing connected technologies for homes and commercial buildings, and we’ve been testing smarthome tech in our own homes for several years now.

Does smarthome tech make for good gifts? That’s for you to decide, but we will say that a lot of these are gifts literally keep on giving… 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year.

So with further delay, here is our top smarthome gifts for 2015, why they matter, and how they rank from plug-n-play to nerd-alert, hacker skills required.


Amazon Echo

price: $179 Amazon

plug-n-play: Yes super easy.

Michael: This is perhaps the most significant tech gadget of 2015, and a glimpse into how we’ll likely be interacting with all smarthome tech in the near future. The Echo is an always-on, best-I’ve-seen voice recognition device that replaced the countertop radio in our kitchen earlier this year. “Alexa (that’s it’s keyword trigger), set a timer for 20 min…. Alexa, play radio station NPR….Alexa give me my flash briefing.” This last example is a preference-configured morning report of all you need to know for the day – news, weather, etc. The Echo can also also control Belkin and Philips Hue smarthome devices, and we hope the list will continue to expand. Within the first 2 days, Alexa became a higher ranking family member than at least the cat, and half a year later, my wife and I interact with the Echo a few times a day, every day.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue Color Changing Smart Light Bulbs

price: $199, starter package with hub and 3 bulbs Amazon

plug-n-play: Yes, very easy.

Michael: I’ll just say it, until I found out that Lacee owned this product (and for a few weeks after that point), I thought this was the dumbest smarthome product on the market – outside of dimming, who gives a crap about “mood lighting”.  I mean isn’t that why home automation in the 1980’s failed… because nobody had any better ideas than “mood lighting” control? Then last month at the Media Lab’s 30th anniversary my good friend Emily as well as Nolan Bushnell (Atari founder, yes, random I know) both brought up the impact of light color on sleep onset and also attentiveness within the same hour. I did a little reading, and after finding credible research supporting this, I’m less skeptical. We may even find a Hue starter pack under our tree.

Lacee: I think you nailed it.  Dimmer capability (for night time, or to adjust children’s night lights) and sleep onset are the two main things that I utilize.  It’s also actually pretty sweet to be able to turn lights off from another room–rather than having to turn off the manual light switch, and then use the flashlight on your iphone to go across the room in the dark while trying to not stub your toe. :)


Global Cache WiFi to IRGlobal Cache iTach Wi-Fi to IR

price: $111, Amazon

plug-n-play: Requires some extra hacking and software, but will keep your nerd happily engaged for an afternoon setting it up.

Michael: This is a clever little gadget that connects to your WiFi network, and can be programmed to transmit infrared remote codes to your TV, stereo, projector – anything that uses an IR remote. Coupled with the Indigo software, we used several of these to replace all our remotes with an iPhone app and a single button to turn the TV on/off plus set all the inputs correctly.


Indigo Home Control SoftwareIndigo 6 Smart Home Software for Mac

price: $199, Indigo Store

plug-n-play: Requires installation of software plus setup.

Michael: This is the “mac daddy” of home automation software. With the appropriate adaptors (mostly USB devices to communicate to external hardware), it can control just about any family of devices – Insteon, Z-Wave, WiFi, Nest. At the surface, it’s no more complicated to work in than iTunes, but for power-users it’s fully extensible and programmable. We use this software as central control hub for all the devices in our home. Plus, there’s an active community around Indigo that’s always sharing clever ideas, writing free plug-ins, and adding functionality. So in that sense, this is more than a gift – it’s like giving someone a hobby they can run with and add to over time.


NestCamNest Cam

price: $199, Nest Store

plug-n-play: yes, super easy

Marc: I’ll preface this in that I am not an internet camera guy; we do not have cats to watch while we are away at work and our kids have long grown out of their cribs.  But we do have a Nest Cam that we connect for special occasions like monitoring wildlife activity in the backyard or for extra peace of mind when we are out of town.  And it is especially for those type of uses where we constantly setup and re-setup the camera that the Nest ease of use shines through; the setup and monitoring is right from your phone or you can use your computer.  The magnetic base really comes in handy for placement and as a mechanical engineer I appreciate Nest’s attention to detail when it comes all the way down to the mounting screws (google Tony Fadell Ted Talk).  

Full disclosure, Nestlabs is a Seamless client.


LEDLightBulbLED Light Bulbs

price: $3 to $20, home improvement stores

plug-n-play: easy as changing a light bulb

Michael: OK, so technically this isn’t “smart” in the internet-connected sense, it’s just smart. This is the year that LED light bulbs crossed below $3 per bulb. These bulbs typically use 20% of the energy to produce the same amount of light, and the color temp (i.e. ambience) can be better than incandescent lights depending on the bulbs you choose. At these prices, the average payoff in energy savings is under a year, sooner for high-use areas like the kitchen. LED tubes to replace fluorescent bulbs also came on the scene in a big way this year.


Aeon MultisensorAeon Labs Aeotec Z-Wave Multi-Sensor

price: $42 Amazon

plug-n-play: Requires setup and integration with home automation system.

Michael: This device is neat because it will sense temperature, humidity, light, and motion, all in one battery or USB powered device. It’s z-wave connected, and can be integrated with multiple systems (SmartThings, Indigo, etc), or the power user can write their own code to interface with it. We have one of these in every room of our house to enable occupancy-based lighting control, and to measure temperature in rooms we use space heaters instead of running the central heater.  


SmartThings Arduino ShieldSmartThings Arduino Shield

price: $35 SmartThings Store

plug-n-play: advanced tinkerer

Marc: Did your niece take apart that noise making birthday card just to see how it works?  If you are buying for someone who has moderate electronics skills and likes to create things this is the smart home gift for them.  This Arduino shield, which plugs on top of the standard Arduino micro controller, enables the tinkerer to build electronics projects that are controlled by their Smart Things smart home hub.  That does mean they have to have some other components to get this project started (SmartThings Hub price $99, Arduino Starter Kit price $50), but especially if they already have a SmartThings Hub this makes for great gift for the tinkerer on our list.

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